A federal judge in Milwaukee has overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, one of the subjects of the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer. Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery were found guilty of the rape and murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005 and both respectively sentenced to life in prison.
Due to the judge’s decision, 26-year-old Dassey could be free in 90 days unless the state refiles. He began his sentence at the age of 17, and in 2014, the legal team from Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth took his case to court to have the government reexamine the case.
Making a Murderer examined the trials and interrogations of both Dassey and Avery, with portions of Dassey’s four interrogations being particularly scrutinized, given his low IQ in the borderline deficiency range and lack of legal or adult representation as an underage suspect. For many viewers, the exploration of Dassey’s case showed cracks in how the justice system handles intellectual disability.
Both Avery and Dassey will continue to be the subjects of future episodes of Making a Murderer. Avery is still serving his sentence with potential for his case to be appealed. Outside of the court room, scientists have raised suspicions as to how blood and DNA may have been mishandled in the case. His former lawyers Dean Strang and Jerry Buting were hopeful that his case would be appealed in interviews following the show’s release and success.
“The documentary has certainly had an effect on [people coming forward with new information] — what facts or science might be admissible and reliable enough to make a difference, I don’t know,” Buting told Rolling Stone. “Without the documentary, there wouldn’t have been the same willingness for people to come forward, perhaps.”